Hello Nature readers,
Today we boggle at a bone from what might have been the planet’s largest dinosaur and reveal our pick of the best images, features and culture from the week in science.
That’s the opinion of US President Donald Trump’s pick for science adviser, Kelvin Droegemeier, who made the point at his nomination hearing yesterday. However, the extreme-weather scientist equivocated on whether doubts about the human role in climate change should be included in policy decisions. Droegemeier raised the issue of sexual harassment in research, saying that he will take on this problem if confirmed to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Nature | 3 min read
Preliminary data suggest that reefs in the dimly lit ‘mesophotic zone’, 30-150 metres below the ocean surface, are more vulnerable to storms and climate change than researchers had suspected. That casts doubt on a long-standing hope that deep-water corals could serve as refuges for marine life displaced from increasingly threatened shallow reefs.
Nature | 5 min read
A female thought to be at least 13 years old, who died around 90,000 years ago, is the first-ever person known to be half Neanderthal and half Denisovan. Researchers identified her from a genomic analysis of a bone fragment found in a Siberian cave. Scientists already knew that Denisovans and Neanderthals bred with each other, given genetic variation between ancient and modern humans, but the ancient female is the first time a direct descendant of the two distinct human groups has been found. “To find a first-generation person of mixed ancestry from these groups is absolutely extraordinary,” says population geneticist Pontus Skoglund.
Nature | 4 min read
Reference: Nature paper
Hydroelectric dams turn gravitational potential energy into electricity — and can also store energy by pumping water back up when supply outstrips demand. A prototype energy plant aims to show that a huge stack of blocks can do essentially the same thing. Towers of waste concrete, moved by robot cranes, could store excess power without the need for waterfalls and reservoirs. If it works, it could offer a low-tech way of helping to solve one of the most pressing problems in renewable energy: the cost of storage.
Quartz | 7 min read
FEATURES & OPINION
After spending the first year and a half of his postdoc working out a protocol for single-cell microscopy, Lenny Teytelman decided to launch a central repository for updating protocols and sharing tips. He says that mobile-friendly, web-based technologies are finally ready to tackle the well-recognized need to improve reproducibility.
Nature | 4 min read
Cobalt is an essential ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, electric cars and other trappings of the modern world. Two-thirds of the world’s cobalt supply is produced in one of the world’s poorest regions: the southeastern province of Lualaba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fortune goes to witness the child labour and corruption that feeds our insatiable global hunger for batteries — and explores what solutions might be found on the ground.
Fortune | 22 min read
Bone specialist Yoshihiro Sato faked the data for dozens of studies whose findings rippled through the field. Science investigates how ‘gift authorship’, failed peer review and reticent journals exacerbated the lie — and how tenacious whistleblowers gave years of their lives to prove it.
Science | 19 min read
INFOGRAPHIC OF THE WEEK
Scientists can get bogged down in detail and flummoxed by nerves when it’s time to stand up in front of an audience. That can lead to presentations that are prepared for themselves rather than their audiences. Slide-maestro David Rubenson offers his top tips for how to put yourself in your listeners’ shoes.
Nature | 5 min read
When fields usually list authors in alphabetical order, it changes the way researchers work and publish. For example, researchers with A-surnames are significantly more likely than people with Z-surnames to gain tenure at a top-ten economics department. The effect is not lost on scientists: they tend to tweak their names to move up the queue. Authors with the ‘van’ prefix before their surnames drop it from bylines more often than those whose surnames start with ‘de’.
Nature Index | 7 min read
Reference: Research Evaluation paper
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Palaeontologists Cecilia Apaldetti and Ricardo Martínez stand next to a bone from what might have been the planet’s largest dinosaur, Ingentia prima. The gigantic specimen, discovered in Argentina and described in July, is more than 200 million years old. It probably came from one of the earliest giant sauropods — which weighed up to 10 tonnes — and changes our understanding of how dinosaurs in this lineage grew to such immense sizes.
Reference: Nature Ecology & Evolution paper
BOOKS & ARTS
Prodigious Greek physician Galen pioneered the idea of the ‘healthspan’ — the length of time a person enjoys optimal health — way back in AD 175. A medically informed translation of Galen’s classic text, written by a former neuroscientist, illuminates how the ancients saw ageing.
Nature | 6 min read
Barbara Kiser’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes the ancient seeds of the opioid crisis, a love letter to physics and a ticket to the termite circus.
Nature | 2 min read
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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing